Events - 30.04.2013 - 00:00 

Up Close with Stanley McChrystal

The Former Commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan talked at the 43rd St. Gallen Symposium about past military interventions. He gave his assessment of the original missions into Iraq and Afghanistan.
Source: HSG Newsroom


3 May 2013. The second and final day of the 43rd St. Gallen Symposium saw retired four-star General Stanley McChrystal take the stage. The panel, led by Professor Dr. Lisa Anderson, President of The American University in Cairo, gave insight into the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Dr. Anderson started off by asking McChrystal to give his assessment of the original missions into Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think it’s a great question,” said McChrystal, “I am not sure we knew what the original missions were. We went into Afghanistan in 2001 without a lot of time to think about it.” He continued to point out that after the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and because Al-Qaeda had trained insurgents there, “it was logical.”

Unpopular Nation Building
Focused the conflicts of today, McChrystal talked about counter-insurgency as a conflict strategy. He noted that when you are dealing with insurgency, not only are you involved in neutralizing an armed insurgent, “you are trying to do those things which will make that nation durable enough: politically durable enough, militarily durable enough, economically… so that it can reject that potential infection. “Counter-insurgency is not just one action. It is not just nation building, it is not just building up economic activity… it is a range of things that includes military action as well.”

McChrystal believes that nation building as a concept has become unpopular, but he believes it is necessary, but also notes that it is hard and really expensive. Counter insurgency historically takes 13 years but if you quit after 11 years, you have lost.

Now a senior fellow at Yale University, McChrystal, talked about a recent project he participated in where along with an Immunologist, they compared the human immune system and counter insurgency . What they concluded is that they are remarkably similar. “When the human body is dramatically weakened, then it has the inability to fight things which otherwise you wouldn’t notice.” The same thing happens with insurgency. “Insurgencies generally arise when there are underlying causes that allow it to take root. The weaker the government the weaker the society is, the more the insurgency has the ability to take root and become a credible threat.”

The "Future of War"
Dr. Anderson asked her guest to look forward and assess to what extent the U.S. and the world community are really prepared for the 21st Century conflict. Candidly, McChrystal stated that he does not believe armies are prepared. He believes that future challenges are going to be how well nations defend themselves against what he called, “the power of one.” The power of one person is vastly stronger than it was 50 years ago. An individual or small groups now have more power than they ever had to inflict damage. 

The symposium at the University of St. Gallen is an annual event organised by students that brings thought leaders together from different backgrounds to debate, discuss and exchange ideas.